Thomas Jefferson Papers

To Thomas Jefferson from Sarah McKean Irujo, 24 March 1802

From Sarah McKean Irujo

Thursday March 24th. 1802.

Madame d’Irujo presents her respectful compliments to Mr Jefferson, & has the honor to send him by the bearer, two dozen bottles of sweet Paxarete wine, which the Chevalier has spoken of, to Mr Jefferson.

Madame d’—. would have had the pleasure to have sent it sooner, but being disturb’d in comeing from Philadelphia; waited till it became sufficiently fine to be presented.

RC (DLC); at foot of text: “Mr Jefferson”; endorsed by TJ as received 25 Mch.

Sarah (Sally) McKean Irujo (1777–1841) was the daughter of Pennsylvania politician Thomas McKean and his second wife, Sarah Armitage McKean. In June 1796, Sally met the recently arrived Spanish minister plenipotentiary to the United States, Carlos Martínez de Irujo. Writing to his daughter Maria in 1797, TJ said of “Miss Mckain” that she “sings better than any body I have heard in America, and is otherwise well accomplished” (Vol. 29:314). Sally and Irujo married in Philadelphia in April 1798. After the wedding, Harrison Gray Otis reported to his wife that the Spanish diplomat had “finished & executed his treaty with Miss McKean in the Romish Chapel—The ceremony was performed with due Castilian and diplomatic Gravity, after which the parties went into the country where it is probable, they threw off their Robes of Office, & cemented the new alliance” (quoted in Carrie Rebora Barratt and Ellen G. Miles, Gilbert Stuart [New York, 2004], 246). The couple’s first child, a boy, died in infancy. A daughter, Narcisa Maria Luisa, was born in 1800. The family moved to Washington in 1802, after the reversal of Irujo’s recall to Spain, and in December of that year she gave birth to a son they named Carlos Fernando. When King Carlos IV made Irujo the first marqués of Casa-Irujo in December 1802, Sally became a marquesa (marchioness). By 1804, TJ’s administration became frustrated with Irujo and asked the Spanish to remove him as minister. The Irujos left the United States in 1808, and Sally resided in Spain for the rest of her life. As indicated by Otis’s comment about the wedding quoted above, she had converted to the Catholic faith to marry Irujo. Her son’s application for membership in the Order of Carlos III, a Spanish religious order, contained assertions that Sally and her parents had all been baptized as Roman Catholics in childhood and that Thomas McKean and Sarah Armitage were married in St. Augustine’s, a Catholic church in Philadelphia. The family was not Catholic, however. Their active Presbyterianism was well known and formed a prominent part of Thomas McKean’s personal and political identity. William Cobbett made much of that issue during the 1799 Pennsylvania gubernatorial election, questioning the sincerity of Sally McKean’s conversion and branding her father a hypocrite for allowing her to renounce the faith of her childhood to marry a Spanish grandee (Roberdeau Buchanan, Genealogy of the McKean Family of Pennsylvania [Lancaster, Pa., 1890], 21, 112, 123–4, 133–8, 187–9; Eric Beerman, “Spanish Envoy to the United States [1796–1809]: Marques de Casa Irujo and his Philadelphia Wife Sally McKean,” The Americas, 37 [1981], 448, 449, 451, 452, 453; Rowe, McKean description begins G. S. Rowe, Thomas McKean, The Shaping of an American Republicanism, Boulder, Colo., 1978 description ends , 300, 309, 474n; Kenneth W. Keller, “Rural Politics and the Collapse of Pennsylvania Federalism,” APS, Transactions, 72 [1982], 30, 32–4, 50; William Cobbett, Porcupine’s Works; Containing Various Writings and Selections, Exhibiting a Faithful Picture of the United States of America, 12 vols. [London, 1801], 9:314–15; 11:22–3; William B. Miller, “Presbyterian Signers of the Declaration of Independence,” Journal of the Presbyterian Historical Society, 36 [1958], 167–9; Philadelphia North American, 6 Apr. 1841; Barratt and Miles, Gilbert Stuart, 247; Madison, Papers description begins William T. Hutchinson, Robert A. Rutland, J. C. A. Stagg, and others, eds., The Papers of James Madison, Chicago and Charlottesville, 1962–, 32 vols. Sec. of State Ser., 1986–, 8 vols. Pres. Ser., 1984–, 6 vols. Ret. Ser., 2009–, 1 vol. description ends , Sec. of State Ser., 8:223–4; ANB description begins John A. Garraty and Mark C. Carnes, eds., American National Biography, New York and Oxford, 1999, 24 vols. description ends , s.v. “McKean, Thomas”; Vol. 35:392–3).

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